Cottage Grove man saves gas as owner of a Chevy Volt

ROSEBURG — When Carey Bailey of Cottage Grove cruises down Interstate 5 in a Chevrolet Volt to work at Orenco Systems, the black four-door sedan doesn't scream "electric car."

The plug-in connector is hidden behind a cover and only the Volt name tag suggests this is more than just an ordinary family car.

Even so, many people recognize the car instantly.

"It's neat. People give me a thumbs up. They wave. They give me high fives," Bailey said. "They also point."

Since buying the car in mid-January, Bailey has cut his monthly commuting costs by 80 percent. Some of that savings could be tempered, however, if legislation under consideration by Oregon lawmakers institutes a per-mile charge for electric cars.

Rice Hill resident Romeni Bechtold approached Bailey inside a Sutherlin restaurant Monday when she heard him talking to a reporter about his car. Bechtold, who drives a Toyota Prius hybrid, noticed the Volt in the parking lot and wanted to know more.

"It's the first time I've seen a Volt," Bechtold said. "It looks pretty similar to the Prius."

Bechtold and her husband, David Bearden, told Bailey they were considering buying an all-electric Nissan Volt. They said they planned to wait a year and see if they could get a good deal on a used one.

The Chevy Volt, the first registered in Oregon, is a dual-fuel car. It has a range of up to 40 miles on energy stored in a lithium-ion battery. When the battery is depleted, a generator that converts gasoline into electricity kicks in and delivers about 40 miles per gallon on a 9.3-gallon tank.

Bailey, an electrical engineer, is nearly able to reach work just on the electric charge. The gasoline generator usually takes over as he's driving down the freeway hill leading to Sutherlin, he said.

"Even if I use a quarter of a gallon of gas to get to work, that's hardly anything," he said.

When Bailey reaches Orenco, he charges the car back up by plugging a cord into a standard 120-volt outlet.

It takes about 10 hours to completely charge the Volt's battery, at a cost of about 83 cents per charge, Bailey said. Using a 240-volt outlet cuts the time in about half.

A series of fast-charge stations is being designed for installation along I-5, including ones in Roseburg, Rice Hill and Canyonville. Those stations, which are scheduled to be installed later this year, will provide full charges in as little as 15 minutes.

The federal Department of Energy is financing the installation of eight stations between Cottage Grove and Ashland through a $700,000 stimulus grant. A San Francisco company, ECOtality, was selected to design and install the stations.

Bailey said he's pleased he bought a car that can run on electricity and gasoline. Owners of a pure electric car, such as the Nissan Leaf, have to keep a close eye on the battery gauge, he said.

"I don't have to worry about that since I have the gas backup all the time," he said.

Bailey said he used to spend about $500 a month for gasoline to commute the 75 miles roundtrip between Cottage Grove and Sutherlin. He's cut that down to about $100 a month and expects it to drop even further, to about $35 a month, when the temperature rises, and he stops draining the battery to heat the car.

The cars are not cheap. The Volt starts at $32,780, and Bailey paid $43,000 at a dealer in Lodi, Calif., where his brother works.

California is one of six states and the District of Columbia where the Volt is being sold initially. General Motors has not said publicly when the car will be available in Oregon and other states. The company plans to build only 10,000 Volts this year and demand in the states where it is being sold is high.

Oregon, California and Washington are three of the seven states where the Nissan Leaf is being released. The company has taken orders for 20,000 cars in those states.

Bailey's Volt came equipped with a navigation system, Bose sound system, lightweight wheels and low-resistance tires. "You're paying for a high-end ride, and that's what you're getting," he said.

The $400 in monthly gas savings essentially lowers Bailey's $668 monthly loan payment to $268.

"Eventually, the car will be paid for and that will be money in my pocket," he said. "It's nice passing all of those gas stations all the time."

The Volt is also eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and a $1,500 Oregon credit.

Another savings for Bailey and his wife, Naomi, is that for every gallon of gas they don't have to buy, they save 30 cents in Oregon fuel taxes and 18.4 cents in federal taxes.

The Oregon Legislature is considering charging drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid cars a road tax of 1.43 cents per mile.

Under House Bill 2328, owners of those cars would pay about $172 per year to drive 12,000 miles. That would be about the same as the owner of a gasoline-powered car getting 21 miles per gallon pays fuel taxes, according to Jim Whitty, an alternative funding manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Bailey and other owners of hybrid vehicles would be reimbursed for the fuel taxes they pay.

"I don't mind paying my fair share as long as they can figure out what my fair share is," Bailey said.

Gas taxes are used in Oregon to repair roads. Bailey said he would be willing to pay a road tax if it, too, went toward fixing roads, but he said he would object if that money went into the state's general fund for a nonspecific use.

Bailey said he is pleased people are interested in the car.

Bailey will take the Volt to the Earth Day celebration April 23 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. He spoke to the City Club of Eugene about the car.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board, which supplies electricity to customers in the Eugene area, arranged for Bailey to attach a meter to measure how much electricity the Volt's battery needs to charge. That will help the utility plan if more people buy electric cars.

One of the concerns about electric cars is that pedestrians won't be able to hear them.

The Volt comes with a button on the steering wheel that when pushed emits a chirping sound.

"It's not a 'get out of my way' horn," Bailey said. "It's more of a 'I'm here' sound."

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